Clubfit Blog | Brain Skarstad

Taking Control

March 2, 2013 by admin

My personal health philosophy, which has worked for me for about 60 years of more or less conscious life, has been to treat all aches and pains the same way: don’t say anything about them to anyone until they go away.

This has for the most part been a highly successful method. Okay, that blood clot in my leg a few years ago that I was hoping would disappear didn’t, and I won’t bore you with that whole thing. Hospitals, embolism, a little lung damage. It was an outlier for God’s sake. I’m healthy.

The second outlier arose last year. My brother, a year older than me, had a heart attack resulting in angioplasty, a stent and a pacemaker. It sent shock waves through my family (I’m one of six), especially since I had been waiting for about a year and a half for some chest pain behind my own sternum to resolve. It had gone from occasional to persistent and had me worried. I had opted as I always do, not to tell Louise, my wife. She would just make a big deal of it.

The diagnosis from the cardiologist came in and it wasn’t good. Dangerously high cholesterol, bad family history (at my age my mom had a bypass, later a stent, and a little later she passed away).”You are in trouble”, the doctor asserted, “you have Coronary Heart Disease. You are at the highest risk of having a heart attack. You have to lower your cholesterol right now, and ultimately we need to think about rearranging your plumbing”.

This happened a year ago, so I’ll just say that I went online and learned about the possibilities of reversing heart disease with diet and lifestyle, and am lucky enough to have found Dr. Rob Ostfeld, a cardiologist at Montefiore-Einstein, who, with my wife Louise, has helped me to change my life.

The diet is the same as Bill Clinton’s, actually. No meat, no fish, no chicken, no dairy, no oil of any kind, no exceptions. That’s it. “What do you do for protein? Why don’t you eat olive oil, isn’t it heart-healthy?” If you google Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, you’ll see why Bill and I did it. Scientists have proven that this diet is a powerful tool and can repair the arteries and heart – blockages can actually disappear.

So, that’s it. A month later, my cholesterol was down 100 points. My blood pressure – oh yeah, that had been borderline – was way down, heart rate down. I sleep better, rarely get sick, no more heartburn, etc. I’m historically a skinny guy but middle age had hung a 30 pound gut on me which 4 months later was gone. My 36″ waist Levi’s which were too tight went down to a roomy 32″. I feel great.

All of this happened through major pantry and diet changes. And the best part was – I did it without exercising! No running! No stretching!

Ostfeld said “Nice work” but your LDL should be a little lower, and that only comes through exercise. This is why you hate doctors. I had to start working out.

I don’t really believe in exercise, laughing cruelly at runner friends with foot and knee problems, secure that I am a 1951 Human with some body damage but very, very low mileage. That, Louise and Ostfeld said, needs to change.

And so here we are, in the present. I found Club Fit, went through the doors a couple of times, looked around and thought – No, I don’t think I can do this. These are not my people. I’m pretty sure Norwegians and their descendants like me shouldn’t exercise. We are genetically calm, slow, stiff, and we try not to lift heavy things. Change my diet, yes. Start to treat my body like a temple, no.

I mean yes. I have 3 great kids in their twenties who need my continuous oversight (although they have been pretending to ignore me for years). I’m still paying college bills and a mortgage, so the banks need me. Great friends and family – I guess I’m not done yet. Oh, and a business making and restoring violins that still makes me happy.

And although I’ve gone a good distance in the fight to repair my heart and arteries, I know there’s more to do. I get it. And I’m going to try to do it with those exercise fanatics at Club Fit.